Nearly a month ago, we learned that Amazon will set up its new headquarters in both the Washington, D.C., area and New York City. This was met with enthusiasm from some politicians, but dismay from many others, especially as details trickled out about all the concessions local officials made in order to seal the deals.
One detail stuck out to many journalists: Virginia agreed to give Amazon a heads up if anyone made a request for public records. Many balked at such a concession, because one of the few ways citizens hold the powerful accountable is by seeking records through apparatuses like FOIA and their state-level counterparts. But here was the Virginia government agreeing to give a forewarning to Amazon. At the time, Fast Company‘s Marcus Baram asked Eric Philips, press secretary of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, if New York made the same agreement. His answer: “No.”
But it turns out, that wasn’t true.
A new report from Politico says that a top New York City official promised Amazon that the city would “alert the e-commerce giant to public records requests, in case the company wanted to try to obstruct those requests in court.”
According to the nondisclosure agreement signed by James Katz, the executive vice president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the group must give Amazon a heads up about public records requests. What’s more, it explicitly states in the agreement that the purpose of this heads up is to “give Amazon prior written notice sufficient to allow Amazon to seek a protective order or other remedy.”
In other words, Amazon isn’t hiding its intentions with this clause; the company is clearly saying that it is going to try and block citizens from obtaining records that might otherwise be disclosed.
Asked about his original “no” comment on Twitter, Philips apologized and said he was apparently given the wrong information by the EDC.
I was given the wrong information at the time, Marcus. I'm sorry.
— Eric Phillips (@EricFPhillips) December 11, 2018
I also reached out to Amazon and Katz and will update this story if I hear back.
While a clause that offers forewarning isn’t unheard of, giving such a precise reason is quite unusual, writes Politico. What makes matters even worse is that New York had already said it would not agree to such terms.
It’s clear that local governments were ready to give anything and everything in order to please Amazon. And one of the consequences will be less journalistic freedom.